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Saturday, March 15, 2014

E R A S U R E P O E M




E R A S U R E P O E M
       for Susan Schultz 
"The tract through which we passed is generally very good land, with plenty of water; and there, as well as here, the country is neither rocky nor overrun with brush-wood. There are, however, many hills, but they are composed of earth. The road has been good in some places, but the greater part bad. About half-way, the valleys and banks of rivulets began to be delightful. We found vines of a large size, and in some cases quite loaded with grapes; we also found an abundance of roses, which appeared to be like those of Castile."
"We have seen Indians in immense numbers, and all those on this coast of the Pacific contrive to make a good subsistence on various seeds, and by fishing. The latter they carry on by means of rafts or canoes, made of tule (bullrush) with which they go a great way to sea. They are very civil. All the males, old and young, go naked; the women, however, and the female children, are decently covered from their breasts downward. We found on our journey, as well as in the place where we stopped, that they treated us with as much confidence and good-will as if they had known us all their lives. But when we offered them any of our victuals, they always refused them. All they cared for was cloth, and only for something of this sort would they exchange their fish or whatever else they had. During the whole march we found hares, rabbits, some deer, and a multitude of berendos (a kind of a wild goat)."
" I pray God may preserve your health and life many years."
" From this port and intended Mission of San Diego, in North California, third July, 1769."
" FRIAR MIGUEL JOSE JUNIPERO SERRA." 
[excerpt from Seventy-five years in California , page 371, by William Heath Davis]

UN-ERASURE POEM

We   here
are composed of earth
valleys and      rivulets
vines     loaded with grapes
an abundance of roses
We     Indians     on this coast    
carry on
very civil,     old and young 
decent     on our journey   
we treat with      confidence and good-will
all lives

always care for
the whole
multitude
a kind of wild
God

s     o    n     g        o     f

I I ‘ U R*
(* one of the Kumeyaay words for Juniperus californica)

         - by Deborah A. Miranda


I've had examples of erasure poems pasted into my notebook for years, but somehow the idea never grabbed hold of my imagination.  Until this morning.  And probably this inspiration came from skyping with Susan Schultz's Documentary Writing class yesterday (from Virginia to Hawai'i thanks to the magic of the internet!).  Susan has long been one of my heroes; the publisher of TinFish Press and so many of the quite beautiful chapbooks in my collection.  But she's also dear to my heart because of our mutual fascination with creating poetry (i.e., truth) out of the documents that pervade our lives.  

Speaking with her students yesterday, digging deep for answers to their questions and questings, I thought again of all the letters and diary entries left behind by Father Junipero Serra, the man responsible for making the idea of California missionization happen.  Bad Indians contains two "found" poems constructed from Serra's letters, but the layers of meaning in the word 'erasure' drove me to try something different this morning.  Yes, I wanted to erase Serra from the San Diego landscape from which he writes.  Yes, I am going to hell for this.  Yes, I am looking forward to all the really awesome poets who will be waiting for me at the gates.

After I wrote this poem, I wondered how to write ABOUT the form of an erasure poem, the concept of them.  Turns out lots of other people have attempted this, so I will just point you to Via Negative: A Literary Weblog, where Dave Bonta says:

"Just as (we are told) there are no atheists in foxholes, so the erasure poet comes to believe that there are no truly prosaic passages in a passage of prose. You can only look at arrangements of words on a page for so long before you completely lose track of which are the expected sentiments, the set phrases. Strangeness affects them all. You look deeper: within words, and between words widely separated on the page. New possible poems spark with electricity, like Frankenstein’s monster just before full reanimation. But it’s a zero-sum game: for one poem to open, countless others must remain closed. Syntax, like time, only flows in one direction. Knowing this, you hesitate over the source text. The poems are parallel universes, each with their own laws. And as in physics, any pretense of the observer to a god-like standing above the observed phenomenon is impossible; to observe is to recognize, and to recognize is to implicate oneself in an inherently contingent origin. Perhaps the Daoists are right, and the only perfect art object is the uncarved block."

And perhaps erasure poems must themselves be erased and transformed.  This poem is for the students in Susan's class who gave so much of themselves to me yesterday, and who have so much beauty to give to the world.

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